Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Blogging Is Not Enough For Me

The tremendous popularity of blogs nowadays is a testament that there's no shortage of people wanting to communicate. But, by their very nature, the information contained in blogs is generally temporal and fleeting.

Bloggers naturally write like they're posting to a journal or authoring a newspaper column. Readers of blogs typically subscribe just like they do in order to receive magazines delivered by their postal carrier, or newsletters that arrive in their e-mail inbox.

While the content contained in blogs can obviously be indexed and accessed via search engines, like Google, Yahoo, or MSN Search, my guess is that most blogs are overwhelmingly viewed by people who are regular recurring readers, and not by folks who reach a blog page after clicking on the results of some online search.

A few weblog publishing tools, such as TypePad (i.e., Movable Type), support the creation of categories as an alternate means to the traditional chronological form of organizing blog entries. But, in my estimation, these category features are not that frequently used by the vast majority of blog readers. I'm not even sure how popular the categorizing features are with blog authors. I tend to believe it's the kind of functionality that authors mostly think they want early on when they're first getting going with their blogging. After awhile, though, all that most bloggers really want to do is simply post their thoughts as quickly as possible, more or less like a diary, or a stream of consciousness. Speed (i.e., elapsed time to respond after some event), frequency (i.e., the number of distinct postings), and brevity (i.e., the length of each posting in terms of number of words written) are the key criteria that a blogger commonly uses for measuring his/her personal productivity.

If writing a blog is like publishing a magazine or newspaper column, then creating an in-depth description of a specific topic/subject is more akin to authoring a book. With the latter, the process commences with the formulation of a table of contents, which can also be referred to as a taxonomy or category tree, where information is arranged according to an hierarchical organization.

Every "branch" of a category tree includes its own category description. Normally, each description is painstakingly crafted as new content gets continuously integrated with previously-written existing content. Over time, after a number of separate editing sessions, the descriptive information often needs to be rewritten. Sometimes whole sections must be reorganized. Indeed, the category tree itself frequently undergoes constant, continual refinement and occasionally requires major refactoring.

This whole process is somewhat analogous to the art of whittling -- shaving a little here, shaping a little there. In the end the ultimate goal is to craft a hierarchy that correctly, and most effectively, is understood by the reader. The objective is to decompose the larger, overall topic/subject into small, manageable, bite-size morsels that can be easily comprehended.

Extending the category tree analogy further, each branch can also spawn its own "leaves." The characteristics of each "leaf" depends on the topic/subject being modeled. The detailed information that's captured for each instance of a leaf is quite different than the information necessary for describing the individual categories themselves.

The Architecture 'Resources' Repository is an example of a complex topic/subject. It has a category tree that explodes out into an expansive set of branches needed to describe and explain something as formidable as IT Architecture.

The graphic shown on the right includes a bookshelf metaphor that's superimposed on top of the underlying category tree. You might imagine that you're a bird soaring high above the IT Architecture category tree and the bookshelf image that you're seeing is your bird's-eye view. Using the graphic as a navigational aid you can immediately dive into any portion of the IT Architecture category tree.

Another example of a category tree is ITscout's model for Infrastructure, shown below (click on the image to view a Flash version that can be zoomed by right-clicking):

The graphical navigator provides for instantaneous single-click access to any portion of the very large, complicated, underlying category tree.

In the world of Internet communication, blogging plays an important role. But it has many weaknesses if you're trying to publish and communicate more permanent and polished information about a complex topic/subject. Every blogger should be as lucky as I am to have supplemental web sites like the Architecture 'Resources' Repository and ITscout.


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